Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Impossible Identifications" at the EPTC

If you want to know where I've been during 2013, I've been working on a book on Jacques Rancière and philosophy. In Part I, I focus on Rancière's account of political subjectification, and I argue that we could get a better sense of his account if we consider his work in relation to Descartes, Beauvoir, and Sartre (and vice versa). In terms of the overall architecture of the book, my paper on Cartesian egalitarianism should be Chapter 1, and this paper on Sartre and Being and Nothingness is half of Chapter 2. I will be presenting a rough draft of the second half of Chapter 2 at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture (EPTC) in the first week of June. Here's a link to the program, and I am looking forward to the fact that Jason Wirth, who reviewed my Schelling book, will be giving the commentary on my more recent work.

Here's the abstract:
"Impossible Identifications: Rancière as Reader and Critic of Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason"
In this presentation, I examine the influence of Sartre, especially the Critique of Dialectical Reason and several contemporaneous essays on anti-colonialism, on the political thought of Jacques Rancière. A reconsideration of Sartre is in order for two interrelated reasons: first, both Sartre and Rancière propose accounts of emancipatory political subjectification in which subjective praxis emerges as a radical break with a given set of oppressive and exploitative social relations; and second, both Sartre and Rancière conceptualize identity as a function or operation of oppressive or exploitative social relations, and thus political praxis involves a disidentification with one’s previous identifications and interests.
But I'd like to note that Rancière critiques how Sartre hyper-instrumentalizes political praxis. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the paper:
An important difference between Sartre and Rancière turns on how they conceptualize this dynamic of disidentification. I will argue that Rancière, in his landmark Disagreement (1995), thinks politics as a paradoxical and non-instrumental praxis, an activity with neither end nor interest other than the disruptive and transformative effects of the supposition of equality, meaning “the open set of practices driven by the assumption of equality between any and every speaking being and by the concern to test this equality” (Disagreement, 30). In this sense, Rancière is consistent with his earlier criticisms of Sartre found in The Philosopher and His Poor (1983), where he argues that Sartre’s account of activity results in the hyper-instrumentalization of praxis: “if the world’s matter is to bear the history of liberation, it must be traversed entirely by technique” (Philosopher and His Poor, 155). Freedom becomes a “super technique,” always turned to an ultimate end which forecloses on “the elastic intervals of autodidact freedom…in the disoriented space of pathways and dead ends where people searched not long ago for what rebellious workers and dreamers called ‘emancipation’” (156, 147). This hyper-instrumentalized praxis never escapes from either internal or external exigencies—whether Sartre is discussing the exigencies of the practico-inert, the pledged group, the organization, or ultimately, the party (140, 154).
I will argue that Rancière’s claim that politics involves an “impossible identification” is proposed as an alternative to Sartre’s account of praxis. In short, Rancière’s paradoxical politics involves a political subjectification that undermines previous identities by momentarily identifying with a part of society that has no part, with this dynamic introducing new and more egalitarian ways of speaking, being, and doing into a given set of social relations (or what he calls a “distribution of the sensible”).